I also belong to a couple of Sinespace groups on Facebook, where I would cross-post sponsored blogposts.
I had installed the highly-recommended F.B. Purity browser extension to control a lot of Facebook’s annoying features, but I found it interfered with the We Got This group, so I landed up uninstalling it completely. And, of course, now that I have uninstalled Purity, Facebook now sends me reams and reams of friend suggestions…
And this morning, I finally threw up my hands, gave in, and started accepting friend suggestions (Facebook is scarily accurate in remembering who my friends and acquaintances were). I’m baaack…
The fact remains that Facebook is tailor-made to keep track of all the loose connections in my life: family (including distant relatives), coworkers (many of whom are now working at home), and friends and acquaintances whom I rarely see in real life. This is now even more true with the imposition of social distancing policies and even lockdowns in places like Italy and California.
And, during a coronavirus pandemic, I am now willing to let Facebook strip-mine my data in order to make me feel more connected while I am maintaining social isolation in my apartment.
Today I had to ban the first troll from the official RyanSchultz.com Discord server, for posting racist and homophobic statements and then denying she had said anything wrong (i.e. gaslighting). I am getting truly fed up with the amount of hate and prejudice I am beginning to see on most social media, and I will not hesitate to pull out the banhammer if I see it erupt on my Discord. This person was banned and all her posts deleted.
My rules for the RyanSchultz.com Discord include the following statement which I essentially lifted verbatim from Linden Lab:
Intolerance: This server encourages social interactions between users across multiple countries. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame users or groups are similarly prohibited. Hate speech of any kind is prohibited.
I have frankly had enough of the toxic stew that many social media platforms have become. I have left Facebook, and Google+ will soon shut down. I have, for own sanity, blocked Donald Trump on Twitter, and I am spending a lot less time there (although I do still cross-post my blogposts there, and I will continue to do so). I feel like taking a good, long vacation from all social media, except my blog and my Discord. I may just do that.
I think we all need to stop and think hard about this monster we have all had a part in creating and sustaining, and what kind of negative impact it is having on society. Some people feel they now have a platform to spread misinformation, lies, and hatred with impunity, and we must all do our part to stand up, call them on their bullshit, and put a stop to it.
Social media stars are the new superstar celebrities of our age. Their antics attract massive audiences, and companies sometimes use them to shill for their products and services (for a fee, of course, and often a hefty one).
The Atlantic magazine has just published an article that takes a critical look at how some YouTube livestreamers are using their celebrity to profit off their viewers’ vulnerability and depression, by collecting a per-person “finder’s fee” to refer them to a site called BetterHelp.com. (This service has also been advertising heavily on Reddit, among several other places on the internet.)
Some of YouTube’s biggest stars have found themselves embroiled in controversy over videos that critics say allow them to profit off fans struggling with depression.
Over the past year, mental health and burnout have become big topics in the YouTube community. Stars like Philip DeFranco and Shane Dawson have posted heartfelt videos about their struggles with depression, encouraging fans to get help with their own issues. At the end of each video, they promote an online counseling service called BetterHelp, and include a referral link that earns them money every time a fan clicks the link and signs up.
…For a starting fee of $35 a week, BetterHelp will match you with an online counselor who you can then speak to via text, phone, or video, theoretically making it easy for tech-savvy and time-strapped teens to get mental-health care. But some people who downloaded the app after being prompted to by their favorite YouTubers have claimed that it has far from helped them.
Eighty-six users have filed complaints about the app with the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit aimed at holding businesses accountable for bad practices. In a Reddit thread, several users describe being charged excessive fees (likely due to the fact that they didn’t realize the plan they had purchased charged the full annual fee up front), and claim the counselors on the app were unresponsive, unhelpful, or refused them treatment.
As Polygon points out, BetterHelp’s terms of service state that the company can’t guarantee a qualified professional. “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you,” the terms of service read. “The Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional.”
It’s a growing firestorm of controversy, and some YouTubers who have promoted BetterHelp.com are beginning to feel the backlash:
YouTubers, sensitive to the growing backlash from their fans, have nearly all put their partnership with BetterHelp on hold after others on YouTube began calling them out. In one of her videos, the YouTuber Deschroma, who had never endorsed the app previously, said she “couldn’t in good conscience” recommend the app to others. The YouTube channel Memeology 101 produced a nine-part series on the scandal, calling it “one of the biggest cons pulled by YouTubers in 2018.” PewDiePie, one of the biggest YouTubers on the platform, has denounced the app and the YouTubers promoting it, saying in his own video, “BetterHelp turns out to be … even worse than what I thought.”
On Monday, the YouTuber Boogie2988 posted a 12-minute mea culpa video, apologizing to his 4.5 million subscribers. “Here’s where I really screwed up: I didn’t read the terms of service for myself. I trusted the other YouTubers that were advertising it. And maybe that’s not something I should do moving forward,” he said. He also announced that he’d be donating all the profits he had made through the partnership to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
But YouTubers rely on trust and authenticity to grow their audience, and even an implication that they might be trying to sell a subpar product or service can damage the relationship they have with their fans. “I really wish big youtubers would stop pushing BetterHelp, its a scam and the fact they’re (youtubers) making money off of exploiting mental illness makes me sick,” one fan tweeted. “fyi the therapy service ‘betterhelp’ that youtubers like shane & h3h3 are advertising is a scam & they’re paying these youtubers loads & they’re capitalising ur depression,” another said.
“Why do youtubers shove shit in our face like #betterhelp #freeiphones and stuff without trying it first or doing research?” a fan said today. “I’ve lost respect for some due to this better help crap. We’re not dollar signs. We are supporters.”
Here’s the PewDiePie video mentioned above (it’s quite good):
As a mental health consumer myself, who has struggled with a chronic form of clinical depression for many years, I can understand the appeal of an online chat service that offers to connect you to a trained and caring professional. But BetterHelp.com goes out their way to warn users in its Our Client Terms & Conditions that:
The Counselors and Counselor Services…
The Counselors are neither our employees nor agents nor representatives. Furthermore, we assume no responsibility for any act, omission or doing of any Counselor.
We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to the willingness or ability of a Counselor to give advice.
We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to whether you will find the Counselor Services relevant, useful, correct, relevant, satisfactory or suitable to your needs.
We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you…
Use of the Platform
You agree, confirm and acknowledge that although the Counselor may provide the Counselor Services through the Platform, we cannot assess whether the use of the Counselor, the Counselor Services or the Platform is right and suitable for your needs. THE PLATFORM DOES NOT INCLUDE THE PROVISION OF MEDICAL CARE, MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BY US. As operators of the Platform, our role is strictly limited to facilitating the communication between you and the Counselor and to enable the provision of the Counselor Services. It is up to you to consider and decide whether these services are appropriate for you or not.
You agree, confirm and acknowledge that you are aware of the fact that the Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional. You should never rely on or make health or well-being decisions which are primarily based on information provided as part of the Counselor Services. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that you will consider seeking advice by having an in-person appointment with a licensed and qualified professional. Never disregard, avoid, or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare counselor, by face-to-face appointment, because of information or advice you received through the Platform.
THE PLATFORM IS NOT INTENDED FOR DIAGNOSIS, INCLUDING INFORMATION REGARDING WHICH DRUGS OR TREATMENT THAT MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOU, AND YOU SHOULD DISREGARD ANY SUCH ADVICE IF DELIVERED THROUGH THE PLAFORM.
You are advised to exercise a high level of care and caution in the use of the Platform and the Counselor services.
IF YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE OR IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING TO TAKE ACTIONS THAT MAY CAUSE HARM TO YOU OR TO OTHERS OR IF YOU FEEL THAT OR ANY OTHER PERSON MAY BE IN ANY DANGER OR IF YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU MUST IMMEDIATELY CALL THE EMERGENCY SERVICE NUMBER (911 IN THE US) AND NOTIFY THE RELEVANT AUTHORITIES. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE, CONFIRM AND AGREE THAT THE PLATFORM IS NOT DESIGNED FOR USE IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES AND THAT YOU MUST NOT USE THE PLATFORM IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES.
Which is the most cover-your-ass, weaselly-legalese statement I’ve seen in quite some time. Essentially, BetterHelp.com is not taking responsibility for anything that happens to you from using their service.
So, BetterHelp.com “do[es] not control the quality of the Counselor Services and…do[es] not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service”, eh? That one statement is enough to put me off that service completely. They don’t even bother to vet the counsellors they connect you with? That’s just complete bullshit.
And the second lesson here? That lesson is to very carefully read the Terms of Service of any online counselling service you are considering spending any of your hard-earned money on. In my opinion, you’d be much better off getting a referral to a real-life, qualified specialist through your family doctor, local clinic, or your community services department.
If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:
When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers:
“Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”
A similar service is called The Haven, another Discord channel for people who need someone to talk to. Both Kind Voice and The Haven are free, volunteer-run services.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. NEVER. Give. Up!
UPDATE Oct. 16th: I have included a professional lawyer’s opinion on BetterHelp.com. This video is by Lior Leser, who specializes in technology, internet and software law:
Here’s Lior in a longer, hour-and-a-half interview with another YouTuber, talking about all this in much more detail:
No, we’re not. First, there was the issue of the disclaimer in the Terms and Conditions about our limited liability in ensuring counselor’s licensure. Yes, it’s standard legalese, and a similar disclaimer can be found — almost word for word — in the Terms and Conditions of many similar platforms. But it’s also possible to see how this can make someone feel uncomfortable. Besides, with our rigorous vetting process, it’s simply unnecessary. Therefore, we decided to update the Terms and Conditions, and on October 4 we removed this disclaimer altogether.
When you watch the television the television isn’t watching you. When you see the billboard the billboard isn’t seeing you… When you use these new designs — social media, search, YouTube — when you see these things, you’re being observed constantly and algorithms are taking that information and changing what you see next.
2) Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.
3) Social media is making you an asshole.
4) Social media is undermining truth.
5) Social media is making what you say meaningless.
6) Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.
7) Social media is making you unhappy.
8) Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.
9) Social media is making politics impossible.
10) Social media hates your soul.
I’d like to encourage all of you to watch the Channel 4 interview via the link above. I am probably going to buy and read Jaron’s new book soon. His thinking on this subject seems to align with other recent criticisms of the negative impact of social media, and with my own experience. I used to be a firm and fervent believer in the power of social media, but no longer. And I am seriously thinking about giving up—or at least heavily scaling back—my own social media activity.